I came across this blog post, which claims to discuss sexism in the work place. The post centres around a bar owner (Jordan Gleason) who, fed-up with the “sexist” attitudes of some of his male customers towards his female employees, decides to take a stand and ban them.
I read the post and I find myself in total agreement with Jordan’s disgust at the behaviour of these particular male customers. And “good on him”, I say, for taking a stand against these people and barring them from his establishment. Such abhorrent behaviour should be fought wherever it is found, and I celebrate it all the more in this case because Jordan stood up to his own customers even though it meant turning down present and future business. That’s not a trivial decision for a small business to make. I applaud someone who stands up for important principals first, and matters of business second.
I do have a problem with Jordan’s post, though: I don’t agree that the behaviour of the men can be attributed to “sexism”.
First of all, I wanted to talk about the behaviour. Here is a summarised version of what the male customers did:
- Made lewd comments directly to female members of staff about their breasts.
- Made similar lewd comments directly to the female staff about them bending over.
- Attempted to defend his own comments based on what the female staff were wearing.
Of course, any reasonable person – men included – would agree that this behaviour is inappropriate, despicable, rude, lewd, and maybe even abhorrent as well. For me personally, the behaviour became “abhorrent” (which I reserve for particularly disgraceful behaviour), at the point that the men – when challenged – chose to put the blame on to the very women they targeted and insulted.
A person who does something extremely distasteful, but is able when challenged to appreciate what they did; that’s one thing. But a person who somehow manages to believe that the victim is to blame for the behaviour they themselves perpetrated… that’s something far more serious.
So yes, “abhorrent”. I stand by it.
So I agree with rude, lewd, disgraceful, abhorrent, and many other negative names people would use to describe it.
I don’t agree with “sexist”, which is what Jordan primarily uses to describe the men’s behaviour.
First, I’ll quote a definition of “Sexism”, from Wikipedia:
Sexism or gender discrimination is prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender. Sexism can affect any gender, but it is particularly documented as affecting women and girls.
OK, so sexism is about discrimination based on gender. And to be totally clear, it is necessary to describe ‘discrimination’:
Discrimination is everywhere. We all undoubtedly experience it multiples times every single day. Discrimination is just a fact of life.
Many instances of discrimination are unwelcome in our lives, but just because discrimination is unwelcome – or even hurtful – doesn’t necessarily mean it is considered “unfair”. Not all discrimination is considered equal in our society, and for good reason. Here are some examples of fair discrimination:
“Fair” discrimination, welcome & unwelcome:
- A boss interviews candidates for a job, and selects the person she feels is the best suited for the position. You didn’t make it.
- You ask a woman to go out on a date, but she doesn’t want to because she would rather go on a date with someone else.
- You are picked first for your community football team. Someone in the line gets picked last. Others don’t get picked at all.
- Your boss needs someone to negotiate with a customer. He values you as an employee, but he thinks your colleague is better suited for this particular task.
These are all examples of fair scenarios in which you are discriminated against. Notice that “fair” doesn’t mean “nice”. We’ve all been on the wrong end of fair discrimination. At the end of the day, it’s life.
There are some types of discrimination that we, as a society, have deemed to be “unfair”. Most of these (particularly those regulated by law) relate to matters of the workplace, but there are examples to be found outside of the workplace as well.
- It’s unfair to select a candidate for promotion based on gender.
- It’s unfair to sack someone because you find out they are homosexual.
- It’s considered unfair, and increasingly frowned upon, to deny children certain interests based on gender.
So we – as a society – have ring-fenced certain types of discrimination and decided it’s not fair, and that people who are found to be engaging in unfair discrimination shall be held to account. Sexism is an example of this. Most people would agree that this is a positive thing in our society.
How does this apply to the lewd comments?
And here is my problem. A man makes some lewd comments towards a woman. I recognise this behaviour as despicable and wrong, of course. I would also agree that his comments were sexually motivated. But sexually motivated behaviour is not the same thing as sexism. Sexism is unfair discrimination directly applied to gender. Where is the gender discrimination here? Can I say he discriminated based on gender because he made lewd comments to the female staff but not the male staff?
So the guy is a pig if he does it to both genders but he’s a sexist pig if he does it to one gender? I would say no. I don’t think that’s in the spirit of what gender discrimination stands for.
I think these men are examples of pigs. And it’s great that someone took a stand against it. There isn’t anything “sexist” about it. The behaviour was sexually motivated, sure. But that’s something different to sexism, in my view.